A 9-year-old girl who had been missing for a week was found dead Friday in a sinkhole, authorities said.

The body of Rowan Ford was found on private land about 10 miles south of the girl's hometown of Stella, a village of about 200 people, Newton County Sheriff Ken Copeland said. He said authorities were still determining how the girl died.

"We know we have a homicide," Copeland said, declining to elaborate.

The McDonald County deputy who found the body had searched the area on his way to work after recalling that there was a cavern there, Copeland said.

Stella Mayor Bill Alsop, who answered the phone at the family's home Friday, said the girl's mother was "pretty shook up" when Copeland came to the home that morning and told her the body was very likely Rowan's.

"He told her they found the body of the little girl, and they were 99 percent sure it was her daughter," Alsop said.

Rowan was reported missing after her mother, Colleen Spears, returned home early Nov. 3 from a night shift at a Wal-Mart.

The girl's stepfather, David Spears, told investigators he and two male friends were with Rowan the night before until they went out around 10:45 p.m. He returned home around midnight but did not check on the girl, Newton County Sheriff Ken Copeland said.

Spears also later told authorities that he called his mother sometime after 1 a.m. and asked to use her vehicle, Copeland has said. She took it to him about half an hour later, then stayed at his house while her son left in her vehicle for about 5 1/2 hours, Copeland has said.

Copeland also has said that Spears has not been able to explain what he did during that time. He has not been accused of a crime.

Spears, who has been staying with his parents, has said it was wrong for him to have left the girl alone.